Mac Demarco is a hard one to put your finger on. On his last two albums 2 and Salad Days there was a definitely this vibe of a true blue singer/songwriter. He could put together these breezy, carefree tunes that brought to mind Harry Nilsson, Jonathan Richman, and even Cat Stevens. But there was this element of the queasy variety about him that made you think something wasn’t right. It was like he was the perverse id those guys pushed down and hid in their subconscious. The muffled lo fi aesthetic of those albums, especially 2, put off this dirty dark room vibe. Some dude hidden away in a room making creepy odes to cooking drugs, smoking cigarettes all night, and just generally fermenting in their own four day funk. And yet, there’s something undeniably endearing about this Canadian weirdo.
Mac Demarco is back and following up his 2014 Salad Days with the undeniably sunny This Old Dog. It’s a mostly acoustic affair that highlights those 70s singer/songwriter tendencies with a “drinking tequila in a hammock on the beach” vibe. I’m sure he’s still a weirdo, but Demarco is a songwriter first and foremost here.
“My Old Man” is a big acoustic strummer of a song, built on a drum machine rhythm, big acoustic strums, and Demarco’s double tracked vocals. Soon enough woozy keys come in as the chorus repeats ” Uh oh, looks like, I’m seeing more of my old man in me”. Demarco was recently on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast and he talked about his dad leaving when he was young and having a strained relationship with him. This songs seems to be touching on that. “This Old Dog” is a straight up love song. “This old dog ain’t about to forget/All we’ve had/And all that’s next/’Long as my heart’s beating in my chest/This old dog ain’t about to forget”. It’s a beautiful song that is the most earnest and honest Demarco has been up to this point. “Baby You’re Out” is a fun and funky number with a quirky keyboard. “For The First Time” reminds me a lot of Dent May. It has woozy early 80s synth and a melancholy vibe. It goes into more of an Ambrosia-on-Ambien vibe, complete with soft rock “come hither” bedroom eyes. But it doesn’t come off as cheeky. It comes off as sincere.
Elsewhere “One Another” rides on more soft rock melancholy and “Still Beating” has some jazzy guitar and that woozy Demarco swagger telling a tale of love and woe. “Sister” is a simple and sad ode. “Dreams From Yesterday” and “One More Love Song” feel like shots of top 40 radio from 1982 and “On The Level” seem to be tapping that same production vein that Kevin Parker did on Currents. “Watching Him Fade Away” closes the record on an honest gut punch from a hurt boy to his deadbeat dad. It’s made all the more effective by the simple delivery of just Mac’s voice and a keyboard.
I don’t think Mac Demarco will stop being the perverse clown on stage and in social media, and really who wants him to? I think he’s perpetually the class clown. It’s him. But underneath the jokey interviews and nudity he’s a hell of a songwriter. This Old Dog is absolute proof of that.